Friday, January 20, 8586

Johann Schein (1586-1630) - Crumhorn

Johann Schein (1586-1630) - Padovana (Crumhorn)

Johann Hermann Schein (January 20, 1586 - November 19, 1630) was a German composer of the early Baroque era. He was born in Grünhain and died in Leipzig. He was one of the first to import the early Italian stylistic innovations into German music, and was one of the most polished composers of the period.

On the death of his father, Schein moved to Dresden where he joined the choir of the Elector of Saxony as a boy soprano. In addition to singing in the choir, he received a thorough musical training with Rogier Michael, the Kapellmeister, who recognized his extraordinary talent.

From 1603 to 1607 he studied at Pforta, and from 1608 to 1612 attended the University of Leipzig, where he studied law in addition to liberal arts. Upon graduating, he was employed briefly by Gottfried von Wolffersdorff as the house music director and tutor to his children; later he became Kapellmeister at Weimar, and shortly thereafter became cantor at Thomasschule zu Leipzig, a post which he held for the rest of his life.

Unlike his friend Heinrich Schütz, he was afflicted with poor health, and was not to live a happy or long life. His wife died in childbirth; four of his five children died in infancy; he died at age 44, having suffered from tuberculosis, gout, scurvy and a kidney disorder.

Schein was one of the first to absorb the innovations of the Italian Baroque --monody, the concertato style, figured bass—and use them effectively in a German Lutheran context. While Schütz made more than one trip to Italy, Schein apparently spent his entire life in Germany, making his grasp of the Italianate style all the more amazing. His early concertato music seems to have been modeled on Lodovico Grossi da Viadana's Cento concerti ecclesiastici, which was available in an edition prepared in Germany.

Unlike Schütz, who composed only sacred music (except for an early and unrepresentative collection of madrigals), Schein wrote sacred and secular music in approximately equal quantities, and almost all of it was vocal. In his secular vocal music he wrote all of his own texts. Throughout his life he published alternating collections of sacred and secular music, in accordance with an intention he stated early on — in the preface to the Banchetto musicale -- to publish alternately music for use in worship and social gatherings. The contrast between the two kinds of music can be quite extreme. While some of his sacred music uses the most sophisticated techniques of the Italian madrigal for a devotional purpose, several of his secular collections include such things as drinking songs of a surprising simplicity and humor. Some of his works attain an expressive intensity matched in Germany only by those of Schütz, for example the spectacular Fontana d'Israel or Israel's Brünnlein (1623), in which Schein declared his intent to exhaust the possibilities of German word-painting "in the style of the Italian madrigal."

Possibly his most famous collection was his only collection of instrumental music, the Banchetto musicale (Musical banquet) (1617) which contains 20 separate variation suites; they are among the earliest, and most perfect, representatives of the form. Most likely they were composed as dinner music for the courts of Weissenfels and Weimar, and were intended to be performed on viols. They consist of dances: a pavan-galliard (a normal early Baroque pair), a courante, and then an allemande-tripla. Each suite in the Banchetto is unified by mode as well as by theme.

Sacred Vocal

Cymbalum Sionium (1615)

Opella nova, geistlicher Concerten (1618)

Fontana d'Israel, Israelis Brünlein (1623)

Opella nova, ander Theil, geistlicher Concerten (1626)

Cantional oder Gesangbuch Augspurgischer Confession (1627, 1645)

Secular Vocal

Venus Kräntzlein (1609)

Musica boscareccia (1621, and several portions published later)

Diletti pastorali, Hirten Lust (1624)

Studenten-Schmauss (1626)


Banchetto musicale (1617)


The crumhorn is a musical instrument of the woodwind family, most commonly used during the Renaissance period. In modern times, there has been a revival of interest in Early Music, and crumhorns are being played again.

The name 'crumhorn' derives from the German Krumhorn (or Krummhorn or Krumphorn) meaning bent horn. This relates to the old English crump meaning curve, surviving in modern English in 'crumpled' and 'crumpet' (a curved cake).

The crumhorn is a capped reed instrument. Its construction is similar to that of the chanter of a bagpipe. A double reed is mounted inside a windcap at one end of a long pipe. Blowing into the windcap produces a musical note. The pitch of the note can be varied by opening or closing finger holes along the length of the pipe. One unusual feature of the crumhorn is its shape; the end is bent upwards in a curve resembling the letter 'J'.

Crumhorns make a strong buzzing sound. They have a limited range, usually a major ninth; while it is theoretically possible to get the reed to overblow a twelfth above the fundamental note, this is extremely difficult since the reed is not held in the mouth, so in practice all playing is confined to the fundamental series. Some larger instruments have their range extended downwards by means of additional holes and sliders or by dropping the pressure. Modern instruments have their range extended upwards to an eleventh by two keys. Crumhorns can be chromatically played by using cross-fingerings, except for the minor second above the lowest note.

Because of the limited range, music for crumhorns is usually played by a group of instruments of different sizes and hence at different pitches. Such a group is known as a consort of crumhorns. Crumhorns are built in imitation of the vocal quartet with soprano, alto, tenor and bass as a whole family, as was true with most instruments of the Renaissance. Occasionally some higher and lower sounding instruments are built, but only the great bass has come to stay in addition to the four other sizes. The c/f-pitch has come to stay as among the most Renaissance wood-wind instruments:

size scale range (modern crumhorn in parenthesis)

Soprano c1 d1 – d2 (– f2)
Alto f0 g0 – f1 (– b1)
Tenor c0 d0 – d1 (– f1)
Bass F G – f0 (– b0)
Great Bass C D – d0 (– f0)

Michael Praetorius suggested the use of crumhorns in some of his sacred vocal works as a possible alternative to trombones, dulcians and other instruments.

Johann Hermann Schein included a padouana à 4 for crumhorns in his collection Banchetto Musicale, 1617.

The band Gryphon used a crumhorn in the 1970's, blending medieval folk music and symphonic rock.


Marin Mersenne, Marin Mersennus, or le Père Mersenne (September 8, 1588 - September 1, 1648) was a French theologian, philosopher, mathematician and music theorist, often referred to as the "father of acoustics."

One of Mersenne's most important contributions to the advance of learning was his extensive correspondence (in Latin, of course) with mathematicians and other scientists in many countries. At a time when the scientific journal had not yet come into being, Mersenne was the center of a network for exchange of information.

His philosophical works are characterized by wide scholarship and the narrowest theological orthodoxy. His greatest service to philosophy was his enthusiastic defence of Rene Descartes, whose agent he was in Paris and whom he visited in exile in the Netherlands. He submitted to various eminent Parisian thinkers a manuscript copy of Decartes's Meditations on First Philosophy, and defended its orthodoxy against numerous clerical critics.

In later life, he gave up speculative thought and turned to scientific research, especially in mathematics, physics and astronomy. In this connection, his best known work is Traité de l'harmonie universelle (also referred to as Harmonie universelle) of 1636, dealing with the theory of music and musical instruments. It is regarded as a source of information on 17th century music, especially French music and musicians.

One of his many contributions to musical tuning theory was the suggestion of

as the ratio for an equally-tempered semitone. It was more accurate (0.44 cents sharp) than Vincenzo Galilei's 18/17 (1.05 cents flat), and could be constructed using straightedge and compass. Mersenne's description in the 1636 Harmonie universelle of the first absolute determination of the frequency of an audible tone (at 84 Hz) implies that he had already demonstrated that the absolute-frequency ratio of two vibrating strings, radiating a musical tone and its octave, is 1 : 2. The perceived harmony (consonance) of two such notes would be explained if the ratio of the air oscillation frequencies is also 1 : 2, which in turn is consistent with the source-air-motion-frequency-equivalence hypothesis.

Further Reading:

Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin
Music in the Western World: A History in Documents
Marin Mersenne
Harmonie universelle, Book III (1637) (Pages 204-205)

[8596 Descartes / 8586 Schein / 8585 Schutz]